From a self-professed “fat kid” to Iron Chef Thailand winner and 2017 James Beard Foundation Book Award Nominee, author and pastry chef Jason Licker shares his unique love affair with Asian-Accented Desserts and Flavors at ChefConnect: Newport Beach.
Chef Licker shares why he thinks 2018 will be an incredible and delicious year.
Why did you become a chef?
I have always had a love affair with food. No doughnut or cookie was ever safe around me. As a kid, I was overweight and loved sweets. I fell in love with pastry when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and we started cooking together. It became my creative outlet to express emotion, art and ideas. Ironically, my mother never knew I went on to become a pastry chef. My passion is to create delicious food and bring smiles to people faces with memorable experiences.
Describe your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is to create well-balanced desserts utilizing your palate (sweet, salty, sour and bitter) in coordination with textural and temperature differentials. I don’t like when desserts are overly sweet and you fall into a sugar coma.
How did you develop your interest in Asian flavors and cuisine?
My first experience with Asian flavors was working for Nobu. Flavors like shiso, yuzu and matcha just were so completely different to anything I have ever tasted and had a massive impact on me. I grew obsessively curious and began to experiment, research and taste as many things as possible. I guess you could say it was love at first bite. I didn’t just appreciate the cuisine of Asian flavors, but also each distinct, unique culture, which led me to living in Asia for 12 years.
What should westerners know about working with Asian flavors?
Westerners should be willing to go out of their comfort zone and develop their own cooking style with Asian flavors. These flavors are so distinct and unique that you can create dynamic flavor combinations. Now that Asian cuisines have been adopted into American culture, you can find tons of ingredients in markets and online. Try something new, you will thank yourself!
What was it like to compete in Iron Chef Thailand?
Competing in Iron Chef Thailand was like a whirlwind tornado. Obviously I don’t speak Thai, so that within itself was a challenge. It took me a second to actually realize that I won the challenge due to the fact I couldn’t understand a word the host was saying. It was a real hour of intense chaos, but so much fun. My Thai cooks, Fon and Fai, really stepped up and we won the Berry Battle with the largest margin of victory at that time on the show.
What influences your culinary creativity?
My culinary creativity is influenced by traveling, meeting people and by of course eating. Whenever I travel any where, I make sure I go to the local market and see as much as I can. The true identity of a culture is its food and the people who make it.
What are you most proud of from 2017?
I am most proud and actually stunned that my first cookbook Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker was nominated for a 2017 James Beard Award. This was the only self-published nominated book of the awards. I sought to create something unique and put my heart in it. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done and I am forever grateful to be recognized by The James Beard Foundation.
What are you most looking forward to in 2018?
I am looking forward to more traveling and cooking with people who love food. Events like ChefConnect, that I am fortunately participating in, inspires me to share my knowledge and learn from others. I will also start working on my second cookbook toward the end of the year geared more toward home baking. I feel 2018 is going to be incredible and delicious.
What can attendees expect from your session at ChefConnect: Newport Beach?
My session is about understanding your palate. I will explain how using sweet, sour, salty and bitter ingredients create a dynamic, memorable dessert experience. I will of course be utilizing Asian ingredients to demonstrate how to make something simple taste so complex, yet harmonize in flavor. I hope to bring some insight from my experiences in Asia and also some laughs with a little Licker humor.
Check out the lineup of speakers for the 2018 ACF events.